While her fans might be upset, advertisers don't expect Paula Abdul's exit as an "American Idol" judge to have any significant impact on ad sales or audience ratings for the Fox show.
"To me, that show is appointment TV, and a lot of it is driven by the contestants and how compelling they are," said Shari Cohen, executive director of Mindshare in New York, which buys TV ad time for national advertisers. "I think the judges offer a layer of intrigue and allure, but it's really very much about how compelling are the contestants and does that draw viewers in."
Tom Weeks, senior VP and director at Starcom Entertainment in Chicago, agreed.
"It will have an impact in terms of how people connect to it, but I still feel it's a juggernaut and will continue to be a top-rated show," he said.
Weeks believes Abdul must have a plan to walk away from a salary reported to be $4 million last season and an offer that sources said was a 30% increase. Abdul reportedly had sought a $20 million salary and more recently had reduced that to $12 million, still more than twice what Fox, Fremantle and 19 Entertainment were said to be offering. Abdul was represented by her recently appointed manager, David Sonenberg of New York-based DAS Communications.
Sonenberg had upset the network and producers late last month when he went public in an interview with the Los Angeles Times about the lack of an offer by Fox only weeks before the new season auditions were scheduled to begin. They start Friday in Denver.
Abdul threw the producers a curve Tuesday evening when she chose to reveal that she was ending negotiations with a Twitter: "With sadness in my heart, I've decided not to return to 'Idol,' " she tweeted.
Sources close to 19 say it was blindsided by her decision to break off talks with a public statement. A network spokesman called it unlikely that Abdul is just using this as a negotiating ploy.
In a statement late Tuesday, Fox, Fremantle and 19 said: "Abdul has been an important part of the 'American Idol' family over the last eight seasons, and we are saddened that she has decided not to return to the show."
NBC on Wednesday denied reports Abdul would join "America's Got Talent" as a judge. Fox denied that she was invited to be a judge on "So You Think You Can Dance." And an ABC rep said she had not been approached about being a judge on "Dancing With the Stars" or any other program.
However, Paul Telegdy, who heads unscripted programming at NBC, did say he thought it was a mistake for Fox to let her go and that she was a major reason fans watched the show.
The way Abdul announced her decision added to her reputation for erratic behavior, which over the years has included charges that she had an inappropriate relationship with a contestant, was a substance abuser and had mental issues. Abdul has denied all those charges.
"Finding something like an 'American Idol' is a once-in-a-career kind of thing," Cohen said. "So it'll be interesting to see once she's not anchored what her longevity is."
Fox did not respond to rumors that it would add another judge or that it would again use guest judges, possibly as a way to audition an addition. Former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham is said to be among those approached for a possible guest-judging gig.
Fox confirmed that the fourth judge added last season, Kara DioGuardi, has been re-signed. Judges Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell are under contract for the coming season, which begins in January.
A Fox exec suggested it was unfair to compare the $45 million deal signed by Ryan Seacrest with Abdul's situation because his compensation covers several things beyond the TV show.
Cowell is said to already be negotiating his next contract. He might try to bring in one of his management clients, like Annie Lennox, to replace Abdul, and that could become part of the contract talks. What all agreed on was that if Cowell left the show, it would have a much bigger impact.
"He's basically the crown jewel of the architecture of how that show is created, and I think what really got it to be so interesting is, before him, no one was really honest with people about what they thought of the talent."
Abdul has outside business interests, but it is unclear how they will proceed once she loses the "Idol" platform. She sells jewelry on HSN and QVC, recently launched a perfume called Sexy Thoughts and endorses a fitness company. She also has released songs and done music videos in the recent past but without the level of success she enjoyed early in her career.
"Much like Paris Hilton, there could be perceptions about her business savvy," Weeks said. "But I think Paula will be one of those entertainers who, if she plays her cards right, will always have a place in people's hearts."
-- Nielsen Business Media